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Playground Renovations Concern Some Neighbors

Updated playground equipment is coming to Mt. Tabor park, but some historic trees are gone—and residents are not pleased.

Some residents of Parsippany's Mt. Tabor neighborhood are gearing up for a fight.

Township Parks and Forestry Superintendent James Walsh told Patch that his crews are about to start an effort to upgrade what he called "the old, outdated" playground in Mt. Tabor Park on Country Club Road.

"The new structure will have four different slides, a large climbing boulder, platforms, etc.," said Walsh. "Also new swing sets are being installed as well as a carousel and several interactive panels."

He said the project will start next week and should be completed within 10 days, weather permitting.

According to Walsh, the work is being done to bring the playground into compliance with the 2007 Playground Code to ensure safety standards.

For some residents, what might be great news for area parents and children is less so because of what the playground overhaul will cost, and not in terms of dollars and cents.

Tabor resident Shauna Canter said that with no warning for residents, two large maple trees in the Mt. Tabor Playground Park were cut down and the playground equipment removed on Jan. 18.

She said that some members of the Camp Meeting Association of the Newark Conference of the Methodist Church, sort of a homeowners' group for the historic neighborhood, share her concerns.

"Neighbors and users of the park are concerned that the park be restored in a manner that retains its character of a shady oasis for children of a broad range of ages to play and for the community to enjoy," she said. "Trees removed were deemed to be 'hazard' trees by the Forestry Department due to the 'die back' in their tops. Because they are in a children's play area, the requirements for tree safety are stringent."

The Parks and Forestry Department said the trees, after being under observation for two years, were deemed no longer viable, hence their removal.

Canter said she has talked with Walsh and was told that documentation regarding the trees' alleged poor condition was not available for community review. 

Not happy with what she was hearing, Canter asked neighbors to call the office of Mayor James Barberio "to halt any further tree removal pending community review and also to request a plan for the proposed work."

She said others are looking into the type of playground equipment to be installed. 

"I contacted neighbors and residents of Mt. Tabor and asked them to express their concerns to the mayor and Parks Department," she said.

The citizen-activist, who said she would strap herself to a tree rather than see it felled, said the community is organizing to have input into how the park is restored. 

"Mt. Tabor has many stately old trees," she said. "Some are treasures and some are terrors because they have reached the end of their life cycle. Replacement of trees has been a concern for us as a community and this incident of having the shade cover over our children's park removed is mobilizing us to make a plan for their replacement. 

"Mr. Walsh says there is no plan drawing that would show the layout and style of the play structures and a planting plan for restoration of shade trees to the area," Canter said, voicing one of her concerns.

She noted that the procedure for replanting is to install native variety shade trees with trunks 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter when planting conditions permit in spring. When she asked about the possibility of planting larger trees, she was told that the trees used has best success.

Canter is not giving up, she said.

"I am continuing to agitate and organize for more reasonable sized replacement trees," she insisted. "I also want every action to preserve the existing large shade trees. They are being observed by forestry with the intention to remove them as well should they decline. One of them has had half of its top removed and gashes into the other trunk by the chain saw that removed the other half. This was done again for hazard maintenance."

She also noted that there should be a 6 to 8 feet of clear space around play equipment.

"Not knowing what the equipment is, it's impossible to assess the need for these actions," Canter complained, explaining what she sees as a need for the town to keep residents informed. 

We can expect to see community activism to try and save the old maples.

Canter said she plans to work with existing community groups to create a plan and raise awareness and funds, if needed.

"I'm organizing a group hug of the existing undamaged big maple," she said. "I will also nominate the tree for a New Jersey Champion Big Tree [in] a N.J. forestry registry for historic and large specimen trees. I am also contacting community forestry and Tree City organizations to see what exist to promote community agency in this situation."

She added that residents hope to speak before the Parsippany Township Council to share their concerns.

"Spring planting season is soon upon us," said Canter. "We'd like to get this right for the next hundred years of shady play."

Nicholas Robert Homyak January 27, 2013 at 01:49 PM
" for our children" and then trees come down; old trees at that; would not the beauty of old trees be good and healthily for a sense of place? How much will this cost? taking trees down and planting others? Playgrounds in general are trashed; keeping it spotless should be all that is necessary. Parents responsibility is monitoring; watching their kids, not the towns responsibility to be 'so concerned for our safety. Certainly not right not informing or even consulting residents another sleazy deal and example of the loss of land ethic by our "business deal community".
JM Embler January 29, 2013 at 05:42 PM
U go Miss Shauna!! I am proud to know this person in Mt Tabor is protecting our trees!!

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